Trees, timber and carbon storage

Growing trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store the carbon so efficiently that approximately half the dry weight of a tree is carbon. While a forest is growing, it is actively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the form of wood. A forest left undisturbed will continue to store carbon for many hundreds of years, although the rate of storage will decline as the forest ages. The beauty of production forests is that carbon remains stored in the wood products produced from the forest for many years, even while a new forest is being grown.

Carbon storage

More than four million tonnes of carbon are stored (sequestered) in Forestry Corporation plantations and native forests. In addition, two thirds of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions are stored in timber products such as tables, chairs, house frames and so on. Even timber in landfill is still storing carbon, equivalent to more than 90 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The benefit of turning forest timber into products is that if trees are left to decompose in the forest, the carbon is returned to the atmosphere. That is why choosing certified sustainable timber products makes sense; no other product is as beneficial to the environment.

Carbon accounting and trading

A carbon credit is a certificate stating how much carbon has been stored and then sold to a company wanting to offset their greenhouse gas emissions. One carbon credit is equal to one tonne reduction/absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2).

In Australia the only type of forest that is currently eligible for carbon trading is defined as ‘reforestation’. This is land that had previously been cleared but now converted back to tree production. About 10 per cent of Forestry Corporation plantations qualify for carbon trading. In 2005, Forestry Corporation became the first forest organisation worldwide to trade forest-based carbon credits within a registered trading scheme.

Carbon in forests

Diagram: Carbon cycle in forests (click to enlarge image [PDF])